November 20: John 15:17

John 15:17

“These (thing)s I lay on you to complete—that you should love one another.”

With this declaration by Jesus in v. 17, the exposition of the Vine illustration, and the passage as a whole (15:1-17), comes to an end. It rather neatly summarizes the message of what it means for the branches (disciples/believers) to remain in the vine (Jesus). This state of remaining (vb me/nw), so vital to the illustration (the verb occurs 11 times in the passage), entails fulfilling the two duties (e)ntolai/) that Jesus places upon his disciples. Here the related verb e)nte/llomai is used, as in verse 14 (cf. the earlier note), for the act (by Jesus) of placing the duty on the disciples— “I lay on you to complete” (e)nte/llomai u(mi=n). This action mirrors the act by God the Father, in placing duties upon the Son (14:31). In fulfilling his duty, the Son (Jesus) remains in the Father, and in His love (14:10)—and believers are to follow this example (15:9-10).

As I have previously discussed, the two duties (e)ntolai/) for the believer are: (1) to guard the word(s) of Jesus, and (2) to show love to other believers, following the example of Jesus. Fulfilling these two duties means that we remain in Jesus’ word (8:31; cf. 15:7), and in his love (15:9-10)—and, in so doing, we remain in him. Or, it might be better to say: remaining in Jesus means that we will remain both in his word and his love, respectively:

A comparable paradigm is expressed syntactically here in verse 17, balancing the two duties—involving Jesus’ words and love—around the central idea of obedience to the duty he has given to us:

“these things”
(i.e. his words)
e)nte/llomai “that you should love”

The i%na-particle, governing the clause “that [i%na] you should love”, can be read two different ways:

    • Epexegetical—it defines/explains the things that Jesus requires, i.e., love itself as the duty (13:34-35; 15:12f)
    • Purpose/Result—Jesus says these things (i.e., teaches them) so that his disciples may be able to love.

Both are valid, from the standpoint of the Last Discourse; however, the latter would seem to be what is intended here. The thrust and emphasis of the exposition was on the duty to love; Jesus’ words (“these [thing]s”), in this specific context, refer to the Vine-passage itself, allowing also for the broader application to the Last Discourse as a whole. His teaching is meant to show the importance of the duty to love (cf. 13:34-35), exhorting (and warning) his disciples to remain in this love. The symbolism of the foot-washing, in the narrative introduction of chap. 13, clearly refers to Jesus’ own example, demonstrating sacrificial love for those dear to him.

With this in mind, it may be necessary to adjust our interpretation of the “bearing fruit” motif. While this motif may refer to the mission (and duty) of believers generally, its principal point of reference may well prove to be the duty to show love.